At Centered Recovery meetings, we foster constructive, solution-focused discussions that are aimed to be helpful to all who attend. These meetings are not a place for war stories or talking about all the negative things that may have happened, as that is not productive for the group setting. If there is a question or a problem introduction that is posed to the group, then it should be kept short and then back to sharing ways that have helped people in their lives.
We have a few recommended areas to address in meetings, and the facilitators and others present can help steer which of these questions to address when appropriate and see what seems most helpful and productive. Moving around from one topic per week keeps a nice rotation, but there is no set order or requirement.
Introduction to Mindfulness
Mindfulness is simply the human ability to be fully present and aware of where you are and what you’re doing in a nonjudgmental way.
Most people hear “mindfulness” and immediately envision monks meditating on a mountainside or people doing zen yoga in picturesque settings. But mindfulness is simply the human ability to be fully present and aware of where you are and what you’re doing. Every person in the room has already been mindfully engaged in countless activities, even if you didn’t know you were being mindful at the time. Have you ever been so completely engrossed in a book or movie that you forgot where you where for a moment? Have you ever sat on a beach watching the sun set without thinking of anything else except the sights in front of you, the feel of the sand or the smell of the salty air? How about playing a round of golf or basketball where you were just “in the zone” and “one with the ball”? All of these are examples of being mindfully engrossed in the activity you were engaged in. Those moments when you’re just there, in the moment, that’s mindfulness. It doesn’t require any special training or equipment, you already have everything you need just by being human. It’s not even a thing you have to learn, because your body and senses naturally want to be present in the moment—it’s just the hustle and bustle of our overfilled lives tends to drown out the stillness our bodies and minds crave. You don’t have to take our word for it, there is plenty of science-based evidence that shows a laundry list of positive benefits for your physical health, your mental health, and relationships with family and friends.
Don’t get overwhelmed with the idea of adding more to your “To Do” list, however, because it’s easy to get back in the zone of mindful awareness—it all starts with attention.
Mindfulness isn’t just about what is happening in your mind: it’s your whole body. Your five senses are constantly taking in information about your environment, we’re just usually not paying it any attention. Try this seated exercise to jump back into your senses and mindful awareness.
1. Find a comfortable spot, but something solid. Now is not the time to nap, but your seat should be cozy and allow you to fully sit up in a relaxed position.
2. Where are your legs? Sit criss-cross if you’re on the ground. If you’re in a chair, make sure your feet can touch the ground.
3. Notice your spine—it should be aligned with your neck and bottom so that you can sit straight without feeling stiff or rigid.
4. Feel your breathing. Feel your chest rise with each breath in and lower as you release. Notice the tiny bit of wind by your nose as you breathe deeply. Notice as your whole body moves slightly with slow, deep breaths, and continue to just breathe for a few moments.
5. Notice what comes up. You don’t have to fight any thoughts that arise—this isn’t about being a blank slate—just notice what thoughts come up, and your response to them. If it feels good to let it pass, let it, and come back to your breath once more.
If you get any sense of quiet or tranquility…even for a moment, however fleeting, that is the peace that can only come from within. You can come back to your breathing at any time, as many times as you’d like, and the more you do, the easier it will be to notice that peace within.
Don’t have long minutes to sit still? Try it in the grocery store line, or during your break at work. If doctor’s office visits seem stressful, try it for a few moments in the waiting room. Waiting for your coffee order? Take a few deep breaths while standing, and notice the smells and sounds of the coffee shop. If you’re alive and can breathe, you’ve got all the equipment necessary.
Personal identity is the costume we slip into anytime we are with other people, sometimes even ourselves. We have done it so many times most of the time we don’t even notice where our costume ends and our true selves begin.
Most of our impressions about ourselves—and others—are based off a single experience in our life, but since we’re always learning and experiencing new things, sticking with long-held conclusions can often be detrimental to our physical and mental well-being, as well as any chance of personal growth.
Why do you believe the things you believe about yourself? Is it true, or is it a habit that was innocently given to you over the years by yourself and others as you navigated through life? Were you clumsy as a kid, and thus identify as “not athletic”? Did you measure your own artwork against a peers and declare yourself “uncreative”? Have you been chatty and comfortable with people, so that your parents and teachers encouraged you as being “outgoing”?
Identify the labels which you have been given throughout your life: in childhood, in your teenage years, in adulthood. Have all of these labels served you well? Which have not? What keeps you believing in these unhelpful or limiting labels?
Cravings and urges may feel like a pull you can’t ignore, a voice that shouts louder and louder until you give in to the call to drink, use, eat that piece of cake, or gamble. In reality, cravings and urges are vestiges of habitual thinking that often show up in moments of mindlessness, and numerous pieces of research shows that all cravings have an end—whether or not you give in to that call.
In Mindfulness, we learn to Urge Surf, which is imagining the craving as a wave that you “ride” with mindful attention. Waves often build in intensity, and then crest, and fall just as quickly as they began. Surfing these cravings allows you to move past them without having to give in or do anything to replace them.
Did you have an urge or a craving in the last week? Were you able to sit with that feeling and surf the urge?
**Medical Note: This exercise is for mental cravings, once the body has been detoxed from chemical substances which may require medical attention.**
Taking care of yourself is the ultimate gift you can give yourself and your loved ones. Eating healthy foods, getting enough sleep, and engaging in light exercise can help maintain your physical health. Scheduling time for meditation or prayer helps preserve your mental health and improves your mental resilience. Taking a break to do something you love, whether it’s painting or playing in the park with your kids or dog, gives your spirit a boost.
What did you do for self-care in the past week? If there were days where you were unable to take time for yourself, did you notice a difference in your attitude? Is there something you can add this week to your self-care routine?
Acceptance simply means acknowledging your experiences rather than judging them as good or bad. Acceptance doesn’t mean you must become a doormat to every person and event in your life, it is only referring to your experience each moment.
It’s natural for humans to want to try to avoid pain—and we are amazing at coming up with ways to avoid: distraction, numbing it through alcohol or other substances, stuffing it down…but none of these ways are healthy in the long run. Acceptance allows you to process what is and move through it without any residual pain or suffering that avoidance would create.
Was there anything in your life recently that felt painful or full of suffering? Did you want to escape that feeling, or were you able to sit with it? Did acceptance allow anything new to come through?
Acts of selflessness and gratitude for others can rebuild self-esteem and boost resilience, and help givers find new meaning in their lives. Becoming a sponsor to others, a mentor to children who might benefit from your wisdom, donating your time, skills, or resources to people or organizations that need you are all great ways to feel enriched and remind you that you have a purpose.
What can you do to give back? What acts of contribution have you made in the last week? Do you have a special calling that you might need help getting to fruition?
Inside Out Understanding
Everything you experience in life is filtered through your own filters, beliefs, understanding and thoughts. While it really looks like our experiences are happening TO us, how we feel about things and what we think about thinks colors how we experience all life’s events. To the fans on one side of the stadium, the final score is a joyous celebration…while on the other side of the stadium that same win is a crushing blow. Realizing how our reality is created—from the inside out—helps us realize our own innate mental health resilience. When we realize this innate health, we can begin the road to recovery without being reliant on anyone or anything outside of ourselves, which ultimately leads to a more meaningful and lasting change.
What emotions have you experienced lately that looked as if they came from “outside” (from another person, event, or thing)? What things were you able to experience and realize that you were participating in how you saw that experience? Can you look back and see certain things in your life differently, with the perspective that you have now?